Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Ohhhh LSAT

Times are tough, and going to law school is not as easy a choice as it was in prior years. But there are those who are not phased by the harsh economic conditions and truly do want to be lawyers. These prospective students still must face the obstacle all law students have faced: the LSAT. A 2L at a top 5 law school agreed to speak with me about her encounters with the test and her desire for a change in how law schools evaluate applicants.

The typical argument in favor of the LSAT is that it is the most useful predictive measurement of how well a student will perform in her first year of law school. As I understand, this rationale is not full-proof, but given the stark differences in quality and rigor between undergraduate institutions across the country, there simply must be some means to "level" the applicant playing field so to speak. The interviewee said:
I scored a 156 on the LSAT, and was accepted into a local, state school. I was pretty distraught because I worked hard for roughly 6 months before I took the exam. Unfortunately, I waited until the last possible date to take the test for the first time, so I gambled on the possibility of transferring to a top 14 school after my first year.
Well, it worked. She did extremely well her first year and transferred to a Top 5 school, where she has since excelled. She offered the following suggestion for a change in the format of the LSAT:
I think the LSAT should focus more on writing ability and the ability to rationally apply principles to fact patterns rather than forcing the applicants to merely parse through difficult logical questions under ridiculous time constraints. There should be flexibility, and the test should illustrate an applicant's reasoning ability in "real time."
Her suggestion is fair. After speaking with her, I did some solo research and found that Professors Sheldon Zedeck and Marjorie M. Shultz have instituted a study assessing the effects of a "test that they say is better at predicting success in the field than the widely used [LSAT]." The professors conducted a preliminary survey asking judges, law firm clients, and law professors what traits are vital for future lawyers:
The survey produced a list of 26 characteristics, or “effectiveness factors,” like the ability to write, manage stress, listen, research the law and solve problems. The professors then collected examples from . . . Berkeley alumni of specific behavior by lawyers that were considered more or less effective.
In response to these results, the professors created and administered an exam to a study group of roughly 1,100 lawyers.  The exam had interesting features:
Instead of focusing on analytic ability, the new test includes questions about how to respond to hypothetical situations. For example, it might describe a company with a policy requiring immediate firing of any employee who lied on an application, then ask what a test taker would do upon discovering that a top-performing employee had omitted something on an application.
The proposed exam tests the qualities the interviewee thought would better predict her future success in law school.  It appears that many deans have been receptive to the idea of another factor that would assist them in making admissions decisions when an applicant with an otherwise impressive file has a sub-par LSAT score.  "David E. Van Zandt, dean of the law school at Northwestern, said he would welcome a supplement to the LSAT to evaluate applicants, a sentiment echoed by other law school deans." 

Because it focuses on an applicant's ability to be a successful lawyer rather than his ability to merely do well in law school, this exam seems desirable.  Hopefully, the research sparks some change.


  1. The LSAT, as much as it may sting to say so, is the best we can do. It is institutionalized, and it should not be changed.

  2. SCOTUS should not have overruled Korematsu or Dred Scott. They were "institutionalized" and should not be changed. Status quo for its own sake!

  3. 6.03: I get the point, but just an FYI--Korematsu is still good law technically

  4. love the family circus cartoon


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